Edmonds Center for the Arts, Edmonds, WA; March 28, 2015
Personal reflections on Paquita, Olympic Ballet Theatre and a look at their latest program (Paquita and Nyman) by Dean Speer.
My own connection to what is now Olympic Ballet Theatre and, for that matter, Paquita, goes back quite a long way. Longtime respected Seattle ballet teacher Dorothy Fisher retired and sold her studio to John and Helen Wilkins. Then, Helen herself retired a couple of years ago, in turn selling the enterprise to its current co-directors, Mara Vinson and Oleg Gorboulev.
I performed as a guest dancer for Dorothy and also stage managed her last big recital program at the Seattle Opera House, now McCaw Hall. I was also a guest dancer under the re-brand of Olympic Ballet Theatre. We performed one of our first OBT shows at the Wade James Theatre on Main Street – home of the Driftwood Players – as the new owners sought out and tested suitable performance venues. I also taught for a different downtown Edmonds dance studio for one year.
It’s good to note, incidentally, that the stage of the Edmonds Center for the Arts is named in honor of John Wilkins, who worked hard for many years with local boosters to restore and bring this venue to fruition. I happily note that his widow, Helen, was in the audience and who seemed very pleased to be there, merrily chatting with well-wishers at intermission. There was also a small contingent of other OBT alumni in the audience – great to see.
My Paquita connection is also a bit of a quaint and colorful story. About thirty years ago I helped colleague Erika DeLap in Longview, Washington with a reconstruction of this ballet and performed as the cavalier to one of her advanced students as the ballerina, with other students as the corps de ballet. Erika has a knack for making her students look good, and she was quite effective here, sometimes necessarily modifying the Petipa but always keeping style and structure.
It was a pleasure attending this program – so lovingly staged and danced by the OBT and School students and guest dancers. From start to finish, the dancers were clean, clear, energetic, and showed the excellent training they are receiving. They demonstrated good and correct use of épaulement and line. I’m a fan of embracing and working with those with varying bodies and I was delighted to note that everyone regardless of body was well used and smartly presented. More than a handful of persons of color too were on stage. Each had good, solid technique – especially the women – a couple of who were so strong it appeared that they could do anything. There are three women in particular who could be members of a ballet company already. Quite outstanding.
Paquita began with a small squadron of younger students, who charmed us with a Mazurka des enfants.
Guest dancers Elizabeth Murphy and Batkhurel Bold from the directors’ home company, Pacific Northwest Ballet, were the central pas de deux couple – the ballerina and her cavalier — and were clearly inspirational role models. Both have considerable performance, training, and coaching experience and this showed with the level of bright dancing by each.
The directors didn’t hold back or modify very much from the original Petipa choreography and it was a sunny delight to be able to enjoy this fun ballet from its beginning to the end – with all of its attendant group, small group, and solo passages, including Murphy’s thrilling 26 fouettées at the conclusion, although I would have perhaps advised her to have begun a bit further upstage, as she traveled downstage.
The only modification was giving over the Seventh Variation as a solo for the male cavalier; I associate this music with a solo for the ballerina, and have a strong visual memory of American Ballet Theatre’s Cynthia Gregory doing it, but it did give Bold a chance to show off his considerable technique and gave us the opportunity to have a solo that I don’t believe otherwise would have existed.
Nyman opened the first half of the program. It is a contemporary ballet that showcases four distinct groups of students with guest dancers, Madelyn Koch and Alex Crozier from Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theatre. Five distinct groupings showed off the OBT dancers – from sharp to lyric, to more flowing, culminating in an ensemble finale, with section three being a strong and legato duet for Koch and Crozier. My only fuss is that I didn’t think the sound score needed to be played at such a high volume. Never the less, a really good “Regional Dance of America” level work of choreography that was always interesting and visually attractive.
Vinson and Gorboulev have built upon a solid foundation. It is exciting and rewarding to see how OBT continues to grow and how nicely trained the students are, under their directors’ watchful and exacting eyes and that of the other dedicated OBT School staff.